Monday, 10 May 2010

The Australian Liberal Party - actually the party of conservatism - have launched disturbing images to feed low-level distrust of Asians among the general population. A YouTube video plants the Liberals' early-campaigning flag firmly on the side of border protection and attemps to take advantage of their opponents' lack of a majority in the upper house.

The Liberals have successfully used their power in the upper house to block a range of legislation. While under Australia's system of government the incumbent party can call an election if the same piece of legislation is blocked twice in the upper house, Labor has chosen not to do so.

A federal election is due in October, and Liberal leader Tony Abbott, who appears in the video, is pinning his hopes of a win on a recent poll that places his party first in the rankings for the first time in three years.

The keyline in the video is "real action", a clever marketing slogan that attacks several recent policy reversals by the Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

Rudd has angered many who voted for him by, for example, shelving a well-hyped emissions trading scheme after it was blocked in the senate by the Liberals and the Greens - by the former because it attempted to do too much and by the latter because it didn't go far enough.

Rudd also decided to suspend the asylum applications of Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers - for six months and three months, respectively.

Tony Abbott's tanned face - he can run a marathon and recently competed in a triathlon - appears interspersed with images that conjure up dissatisfaction with the PM's handling of a number of issues, including asylum seekers.

Treatment of asylum seekers was a key platform for Rudd during his successful election campaign, which led to a change of government. The Liberals have a poor track record when it comes to what they call "illegal immigrants" - basically, people who try to reach Australia on boats using "people smugglers". These middle-men are paid vast sums of money to transport asylum seekers across the ocean from Indonesia and other countries. They usually reach Australian territorial waters off Western Australia - hence the arrows coming in from the north-west.

The Liberals have a healthy tradition of scare-mongering. In 2001, they won an election after telling voters that arriving asylum seekers had thrown their children into the water in an effort to prevent authorities returning them to their countries of origin. The scare campaign turned out to have been based on lies, but its short-term effect was to secure government for the party. By the time the lie was revealed, other concerns were dominating the news.

Now, Abbott and his spin-doctors are stirring up the ghosts of 'Yellow Peril' campaigns conducted early last century during the White Australia period to engender disgust in the population toward Asians. The insidious-looking red arrows in the graphic mirror early attempts to summon hatred for the 'Asiatic horde' stationed just north of Australia's top-end.

Abbott's image resurrects a fear embodied in these items of retro propaganda, published during WWII. The first one shows a rampant Japanese soldier encroaching on the northern borders of Australia, gun in hand. We don't need to be told what's on Hiro's mind, the scheming Nip! The second is from a WWII movie produced circa 1943 in the US titled Why We Fight.

This kind of hard-boiled rhetoric is typical of Abbott's approach: go in hard and fast. But his no-nonsense method seems to have struck a chord in the electorate, if those poll results are anything to go by. Abbott took hold of the leadership in November as his party imploded over the issue of support for an emissions trading scheme. The deposed leader, Malcolm Turnbull, supported the law.

We can only be thankful that some people have chosen to reflect the insidious image in a humourous light, such as this from Wolfcat on Twitter.

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